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Finding Solutions to the Affordable Housing Shortage

Finding Solutions to the Affordable Housing Shortage

April 28, 2014
By Jamar Ramos

What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and had no place to live or no idea where you would find shelter each night? This is the reality for many Americans, some of whom are priced out of the housing market by high rents.

The Urban Institute recently released data showing the disparity between the number of renters who need affordable housing and the number of units available in metro areas in the U.S. The worst area has about three affordable housing units for every 100 renters, while the best has 50 units for every 100 renters. Even in the so-called "best" areas, there are 50 renters who can't find affordable and available housing.

Extremely low-income families

Many of the families who have the most trouble finding affordable housing have a steady income, but they don't earn enough to pay rent. These families are classified as being extremely low-income (ELI). The Department of Housing and Urban (HUD) defines an ELI household as a family of four who have an annual income anywhere from $7,450 to $33,300 depending on their geographic location. These households may have to spend up to 30 percent of their annual income on housing costs, providing they can even find a place to live.

For example, consider a family who earns a wage at the high end of the spectrum, $33,300 per year after taxes.

  • 30 percent of the income, or $9,990, is spent on housing
  • The remainder of the income after housing is $23,310, or $1,943 per month. This is all that's available for all other expenses, including transportation, utilities, food, clothing, etc.

What about the families living at the lower end of the earnings spectrum? They may feel the sting even more as they are forced to decide which bills to pay in order to have enough money to keep some sort of roof over their heads. Some of these families may have to live with friends, neighbors or loved ones -- providing that option is even available. Others may find temporary respite in a shelter for a night or two, but this is only a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Where can these families turn?

Who is helping ELI families?

While the situation may seem dire, there are many organizations dedicated to helping ELI families find affordable homes, including the following:

HUD: Provides loans and grants to help individual states build affordable housing. HUD also runs the Self-Help Home Ownership Opportunity Program, which gives money to non-profit organizations so they can purchase land and help build affordable housing. HUD helps about 3.2 million families find and pay for housing through FHA loans and grants. They also have resources to help people search for housing counselors, affordable apartments and rental assistance.

Federal Home Loan Bank System: This bank raises funds and provides grants and loans at low rates for families. It also has resource guides for families and works with banks and financial services to help them create programs to help ELI families. One of these services is the Individual Development and Empowerment Account program which provides matching funds for families who are saving for a down payment on a home. There are 12 district banks located in San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburg, Seattle, Topeka, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Des Moines, New York and Cincinnati.

While big organizations are doing their part, human service workers are also trying to help ELI families find affordable housing.

What is a human service worker?

Human service workers have a number of responsibilities. They:

  • Assess the needs of their clients
  • Identify any problems that may keep clients from becoming self-sufficient
  • Help their clients create a plan
  • Provide a support system
  • Find services that their clients may qualify for and help them sign up

Additionally, human service workers may help clients find affordable housing, help them contact an organization like the Federal Home Loan Bank in their area to receive assistance to pay for housing, and visit with the clients to keep track of their progress.

The level of responsibility that a human service worker has depends on the level of degree they have earned. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earning a certificate or an associate degree may qualify you for entry-level positions interviewing clients or helping them fill out paperwork. Graduating from higher degree programs, such as a master's degree in social work, may allow you to work with clients as a case manager.

There are a lot of people who do not have homes in the U.S. Human service workers and organizations like HUD may help to lessen the number.


Sources:

Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, http://www.fhlbsf.com

"Helping Those in Need: Human Service Workers," http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2011/fall/art03.pdf

"Homeless problem bigger than our leaders think," Maria Foscarinis, USA Today, January 16, 2014, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/16/homeless-problem-obama-america-recession-column/4539917/

Housing Assistance Matters Initiative, The Urban Institute, http://www.urban.org/housingaffordability/

"The State of Homelessness in America, 2012," National Alliance to End Homelessness, http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/the-state-of-homelessness-in-america-2012

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, http://portal.hud.gov

"Where It's Hardest for the Poor to Make Their Rent," Graham McDonald and Erika C. Poethig, The Atlantic Cities, March 3, 2014, http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2014/03/where-its-hardest-poor-make-their-rent/8539/

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